Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) always involves a bit of magic and approximation since the main search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc) do not openly publish their proprietary search algorithms. Fortunately though, each of them do publish guidelines outlining various steps that webmasters can take to optimize their site's performance in search results.

Most search engines function with two key components: the web crawler (an algorithm which automatically visits web pages, culls information from them, and stores that in massive databases) and the actual search function (which, given a user's search query, attempts to sort through those database indexes to find matches). The key underlying principle across both of these parts is: text. Web crawlers read text. Search Engine Optimization primarily involves strategically tuning the textual parts of a site so as to match up with the expectations of the various web crawlers.

Some good documents about how to do this are published by Google here:

Some key tactics from those documents are:

  • Site structure.
    Most websites are organized as hierarchical trees of pages (a home page and subpages, each of which in turn have their own subpages). A website structure should be adjusted so that the more important parts of the organization are "higher" in this hierarchy, and subpages are semantically related to the pages they are "under". This is something that we are taking full advantage of, and you can see this in Google: if you search for "Bank Street" you get our site and listing of subpages beneath that, which Google has determined to be the most important parts of our site. In this case, Graduate School, School for Children, CPS, Directory, Contact, etc. Which makes sense.
  • URLs and Page Titles.
    Probably the most important thing in SEO is using informative and accurate URLs and page titles. This is something we are actively doing. Every page has a URL that describes what that page is and how it fits into the hierarchy. For example: Page titles are the bit of text that show up in your top browser bar when you visit a page, and these should similarly correspond to the page content, and usually, the last part of the URL.
  • Use meta data in web pages.
    Meta data is bits of text saved in web pages that web crawlers access and store in their databases but that users don't see. There are various meta data fields that web crawlers prioritize, such as the "description" field. You have to be careful about this because search engines may penalize you if your meta data is different from you actual page content (they assume you are trying to "lure in" users for some dishonest reason). But we could make better use of this. Going through and making sure all pages have adequate descriptions and other meta data could probably help our search performance.
  • Provide text for all non-textual content.
    Since web crawlers and search queries are so text focused, non-text content like images and videos do not help search performance. Similar to meta data, there are bits of text you can add to non-text content that tell the web crawler what that content is, but that users don't see. We are doing this to a certain degree, but could probably be more thorough. Going through and making sure all non-text content has adequate titles, descriptions and other meta data could probably help our search performance as well.

The goal of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is to drive traffic to a website. Given the critical importance the Bank Street Website plays in terms of communicating our mission, it is important to both understand and execute SEO tactics when working with the website.

When a user enters a query into a search engine, they tend to go to the websites that are at the top of the list since they are perceived as most relevant to the query. SEO aids search engines in finding and ranking websites higher than the millions of other websites. It helps our website get to the top of the list when people are searching for topics that relate to education, graduate programs, and/or children's programs.

There are a lot of ways a website can achieve search engine optimization. The Bank Street website was designed with many features that optimize SEO. Our content management system, which is how we enter content on our website, has the capacity to identify content with the specific data that search engines need. This includes page titles, page headings, image descriptions, and tags. Tags are keywords that help classify the content of a page making it easier for search engines to identify exactly what is important about the content on a given webpage.